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Blogcat's Take, 1/31

To help us prepare for the masochistic exercise that will be watching the Hornets play without Kemba Walker for the next 6 weeks, Wednesday night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs provided a good warm-up. Walker has accounted for 3.9 win-shares thus far, per Basketball-Reference.com, which is nearly a full win more than second-place Al Jefferson at 3.0. Meanwhile, Kemba’s would-be replacements, Brian Roberts and Gary Neal, should just be nicknamed “Not Him” and “God, Not Him.” Roberts is netting out at -0.9 PER when playing the point, according to 82games.com (12.7 PER vs. 13.6 opponent PER), and keep in mind that’s mostly against backups. Meanwhile, the only good thing about playing Gary Neal at the point is that it prevents him from playing the 2. Neal is a horrific -5.6 PER when playing the point, which morphs into a typo-like -6.9 when he’s the shooting guard—or should I say, “shooting” “guard.” To give you a sense of how bad that is, grab the nearest piece of feces and attempt to swallow it. No, to give you a sense of how bad that is, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Dante Exum currently has a PER of 7.0. So when we play Neal at the 2, it’s basically like playing the other team’s 5 guys plus Dante Exum. I actually don’t even know if that analogy is correct, but it feels about right. As would eating feces, so take your pick.

Neal has been downright noxious this year, and when paired with Lance Stephenson, it’s like watching two suck robot lions combine to form a suck Voltron. Of the 33 2-man combos who’ve played at least 300 minutes together for us this year, the Static Duo have the 3rd worst net-rating at -10.1 points per 100 possessions (per NBAstats.com). You could base this on the fact that both use a large portion of their possessions (24.5% for Neal, 20.7% for Lance) while combining for the 8th worst eFG% (.449, and to be fair, this being the Hornets, NO ONE escapes this turd patch smelling like roses). Or you could base this on all of the flecks of dried vomit that are currently dotting your shirt from watching them put up horrendous shots, dribble to nowhere, and unleash turnover rates that would appall a sweatshop. Lance’s 12.6% turnover rate is 64th among the 75 shooting guard with enough minutes to qualify, while Neal sits at “just” 27th. Neither of them has ever been a virtuosic ball-handler (both are actually at about their career averages in terms of turnover rate), but they also weren’t used as such in their previous roles or were able to make up for it with their shooting prowess...

...until this year, when they’ve both put up more bricks than a Bushwick housing project. Lance’s metrics are basically the opposite of everything you’d like to see compared to last year. I’d seriously be able to find better trends in an earnings report from RC Cola. His percentage of 3-point attempts has shrunk from 28% to 18%, while his long-range 2-pt attempts have detonated from 13% to 27%. Meanwhile, his percentage of layups has fallen from 37% to 32%. His free-throw attempt rate is only off 2%, but his free-throw shooting has plummeted from 71% to 60%. The increase in the distance of his shots combined with the drop in his free-throw attempts and shooting are especially irritating given that 62% of his shots this year have come after at least 2 dribbles, when last season it was only 53%. It’s like a suck wind-chill factor that makes it feel worse than it really is, because you’d hope all of that tedious dribbling would at least lead to higher-quality shots, and instead the opposite has happened.

Neal’s shooting has also jumped off a roof and splattered all over the pavement, for partially similar reasons. Like Lance, Neal also seems to have contracted a bad case of heroball simplex, as NBAstats.com’s shot-tracker reveals his percentage of catch-and-shoots has dropped from 30% last year to just 19% this year. I was hoping that NBAstats.com also revealed he had a clubfoot, because in addition to the catch-and-shoot drop off, Neal’s not getting open as much despite still being relatively young. 62% of Neal’s shots have come with a defender covering him tight (within 4-feet), as opposed to just 41% last year. I wonder if that’s the Chris Douglas-Roberts-Anthony Tolliver hangover? They were Neal’s primary running mates last year on the second unit, and they probably helped space the floor for Gary as defenders had to pick their poison. Gee, if only Charlotte had been able to withstand the ungodly $4M combined salary it would have taken to retain those two...Regardless, some of Neal’s doo-doo brown performance is simple incompetence—especially in close, where he’s been cold enough to murder a tauntaun. Neal has somehow only made 29% of his field goals from within the restricted area, compared to 56% last year. His consistency in getting to the line is the only reason all of us haven’t yet gouged out our eyes with a screwdriver.

Yet. Because if you thought you’d had enough of the Stephensneal monster already, just wait. With Kemba out long-term and Marvin Williams possibly playing at a reduced level from his recent concussion (or, come to think of it, even if he’s playing at full strength), we have no choice but to lean on those two harder than a drunken hunchback. If one or both of them doesn’t start making some buckets, our temporary awakening in the top-8 will lapse right back into a coma.

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